Grassroots mobilizes to defeat recall

LOS ANGELES – Imelda Ramos just became a citizen. She will be casting her first vote on Oct. 7. She told this reporter she will be voting against the recall of Gov. Gray Davis and will hedge her bet with a vote for Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the leading Democrat in the race.

This mother of three from Guatemala said that it won’t be working-class people but the rich who will vote for Republican gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger. As a Latina and a first-time voter, she is not among the “likely voters” that pollsters question. She is, as she said, one of “the poor who work” and constitute “the base of this economy.”

The movement to stop the Republican right from gaining control of the California government by recalling Gov. Davis, has gone into high gear as trade unions, political and community organizations work on mobilizing voters for the Oct. 7 recall vote. Activists are visiting and calling voters in Latino and African American communities, union households and others.

Christine Chavez of the United Farm Workers union is coordinating the get-out-the-vote efforts in East Los Angeles. She said the union is targeting Latino Democratic voters not only in the urban areas, but also in the rural areas where they have union members.

Chavez told the World, “We have 100 walkers” in East Los Angeles and a couple of the areas with a high concentration of Latino voters, explaining to people that having a Republican in office for governor “will take away the gains we have made.” She noted that among the Latinos of East Los Angeles there is “a high percentage of registered voters. The problem is getting them out to vote.”

Garfield High School students Karina García and María Campos, have been making phone calls. Campos, a sophomore, said, “We are telling voters what is best for us as young people.” Garcia, who is a freshman, said it is a question of pride “to work for our people” by mobilizing voters and “telling people why they should vote ‘no’ on the recall and for Bustamante.”

Other young people made similar statements. Talia Pérez, a freshman at California State University, said, “There is no point to the recall.” She lashed out at GOP gubernatorial candidate Schwarzenegger, saying, “He is a big hypocrite being against all immigrant policies, yet he is an immigrant himself.” She pointed out that Schwarzenegger voted for the anti-immigrant Proposition 187, which made immigrants ineligible for health care benefits.

Other voters had similar thoughts. Mail carrier Maria Rodriguez said, “We should keep the governor. The problems we have with the [state] budget are not his fault.” Republican state legislators held up approving the budget because Davis refused to go along with their cuts to social programs, she said.

A young immigrant woman said Davis wasn’t the best but, “compared to the past, has been a great improvement,” referring to the last two GOP governors, George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson. Wilson heads up Schwarzenegger’s campaign operation. She said Schwarzenegger is “a good actor, but he shouldn’t be in politics.”

Rebecca Maril stopped when this writer asked her about the recall, near her home in an East Los Angeles low-income housing project. She spoke out vehemently against the recall saying she would “definitely” vote against it. Maril, the mother of three, denounced Schwarzenegger, calling him “very racist.”

“While all [politicians] make promises,” Maril said, “even though they may not keep them, Schwarzenegger is not even promising anything.” She said that Davis, despite earlier shortcomings, “is helping us, at last,” noting that he signed a bill that would permit all Californians to obtain a driver’s license regardless of their status as citizen, legal resident immigrant, or person without papers.

Get-out-the-vote activity is not limited to the urban areas. Farm workers belonging to the UFW have been going out door-to-door discussing the effects of the recall with voters. Rogelio E. Ramirez has picked grapes for “the last 32 years, on and off.” He and his wife, Rosa, also a farm worker, are active in get-out-the-vote activities in the Delano area. Ramirez criticized Schwarzenegger, saying, “He wants to take away the services from the immigrants.” He continued, “This nation is made up of foreigners, of immigrants. The only people that are indigenous are the Indians.”

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org